Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some come in the form of parents, others as muscled crime fighters. But as far as Andrew Schalk is concerned, his walks on all fours.
Schalk is a 16-year-old junior at Stafford High School in Falmouth, Va., and travels everywhere with his service dog, Alpha, who alerts him when his blood sugar is too low or too high. This year, Schalk’s school agreed to honour Alpha with his own spot in the yearbook.
“He has saved my life multiple times already, by waking me up in the middle of the night to extremely low blood sugars, which are very dangerous,” Schalk, who has Type 1 diabetes, said to BuzzFeed News.
Schalk received his diagnosis in 2009, but didn’t get Alpha until 2014. At that time, he said to ABC News, he had to raise $25,000 to have him trained properly. And trained he was: Alpha’s keen sense of smell is what keeps Schalk alive, even at school.
“He can predict 20 to 40 minutes before my blood sugar goes low or high, and that saves me from huge blood sugar spikes and drops and also benefits my health overall.”
Needless to say, Alpha has been received with open arms at Stafford High, and Schalk says, he has the ability to brighten peoples’ day in a way that only adorable black Labradors can. It wasn’t a tough sell to get him into the yearbook.
“[The students] loved the idea of having him in there because he’s been such a big part of the Stafford community. It was so easy to get him in.”
And since Alpha also has his own student I.D., he was probably already comfortable in front of the camera.
In a statement to ABC, Stafford High principal Joseph Lewis said including Alpha in the yearbook “was just fun to do. Beyond this, Alpha is just a part of everyday school life here at Stafford High School, as much as any student is.”
Alpha’s yearbook picture went viral after it was posted by a fellow Stafford student, and his inclusion has elicited virtual squeals of joy in addition to every emoji available that conveys hysterical happiness.
they put his service dog in the yearbook i'm CRYING pic.twitter.com/yU47kpKnwA
— diana bloom (@nycstheplacetob) May 18, 2017
This is everything. ❤️ https://t.co/NlvIIo8cte
— Leslie Mullin (@leslieemullin) May 25, 2017
Service and guide dog use has steadily increased over the last 25 years in Canada. According to the Canadian Foundation for Animal-Assisted Support Services, a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”